Western Isles Councillors are meeting next week to set the Local Authority’s budget for 2020/21.

The Local Government Settlement announced on 6 February 2020 equates to a cash reduction for core services of £0.9m for the Comhairle.

The settlement included an increase in funding for the Comhairle of £0.9m but also includes new ring-fenced monies of £0.6m for Health and Social Care and £1.1m for Early Years Expansion.

After allowing for inflation, budget pressures, a 3% rise in Council Tax and new commitments the Comhairle’s funding gap for 2020/21, based on the 6 February 2020 Settlement, is £6.4m. £2m of savings via efficiencies and redesign will reduce this deficit to £4.4m.

However proposals in a report to be considered next week by the Comhairle include an increase in Council Tax of 4.84%. For 77% of Western Isles residents this would result in an increase of £1.01 or less per week. The Comhairle already has the lowest Council Tax level in Scotland. This would reduce the deficit facing the Comhairle by 187K.

The Report, to be considered by the Policy and Resources Committee on Thursday (27 February), sets out proposals for £2.6m of savings. Taken together with the additional Council Tax increase these would leave a residual deficit of £1.6m to be funded from balances. This would reduce the balances earmarked to support the budget from £3.1m to £1.5m.

In relation to Capital the Comhairle has seen a cash reduction of £1.4m including a loss of £0.6m and a ring fenced £0.8m for Early Years expansion. If funding continues at this level until 2023 the Comhairle will have a funding shortfall of £5.2m in the 2018-23 Capital Programme. The Budget Report recommends that the Comhairle undertake a comprehensive review of the 2018-23 Capital programme.

The Scottish Budget will not complete its passage through Parliament until 5 March 2020. It is therefore possible that there may be changes before it is approved.

The UK Budget is scheduled to be published on 11 March 2020. It is unknown what impact this might have on the Scottish Budget and may also lead to revisions in Local Government Funding.